Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Year of Needy Girls

The Year of Needy Girls by Patricia A. Smith
Akashic Books: 1/3/17
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781617754876

The Year of Needy Girls by Patricia A. Smith is a recommended novel that explores small town bigotry.

Residents of Bradley, a small Massachusetts town, are all on edge when 10 year old Leo Rivera, a kid living on the wrong side of town, is kidnapped. When his body is later found, the paranoia of the whole town seems to escalate, looking for the killer and/or someone to blame for the crime. Deirdre Murphy, a high school French teach at a private girls school, is as concerned as the rest of the town over young Leo's murder, but she continues to find innovative ways to help her students learn French while supporting them. Her partner/girlfriend SJ Edmonds, is a local librarian. Their personal relationship is known to their employers and shouldn't be a problem - that is until the actions of Anna Worthington, a student of Deirdre's. Anna forge's her mother's signature on a permission slip for a class field trip. Then Anna decides to act on her crush and kisses Deirdre, right when Anna's mother is watching.

Deirdre is immediately suspended from her teaching job while the incident is under investigation. At the same time, SJ is thinking of ending their relationship. When Mickey Gilberto, an auto mechanic, is named as Leo's killer, SJ is shocked and doesn't believe it. She had been tutoring Mickey, helping him learn to read. The two events become tied together by the town, resulting in a citywide outbreak of homophobia. Deirdre and SJ are both reeling and unable to support each other.

Smith does a good job presenting how the two separate incidents became enmeshed with each other due to public actions, which, in turn, fueled the outrage as the two cases are investigated. But, there is no real suspense since we know what happened in both cases. It is more a character study and an exploration of the fear Deirdre and SJ are feeling and their mistakes and insecurities. They are the needy girls more than the high school students Deirdre taught.

While well written, this story has been told before in various forms and, perhaps, more successfully in other books. Bigotry can occur in a small town or a city over any one of a large number of issues. Teachers and other professionals, in a misguided attempt to be supportive and help, can neglect to set up boundaries between their students and themselves. Both of these women should have learned the importance of this years before this incident. In other words, why the heck did Deirdre think it was a good idea or acceptable to touch a high school student, if even to rub their back/head to try and be supportive? This applies to any teacher and student. Use your words; talk to them with an acceptable amount of personal space between you. (As a former educator, her personal choices lost me then and there.) 

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of Akashic Books.

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